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'We've fallen out a few times. He'd have been a lot tougher on me than other fathers with their kids'
We chat to James McCarthy, who is already one of the most successful Dublin footballers of all-time.

JAMES MCCARTHY’S EYES glaze over as he recalls a vivid memory from his youth.

He’s 12-years-old and running alongside his dad by the Bull Wall in Clontarf – roughly a 5km stretch on Dublin’s east coast. The popular running route helped build one of the most powerful engines in Gaelic football.

Watch the Dubs play Carlow today in Portlaoise and one thing you’ll notice is how much ground McCarthy makes up as he seemingly glides along the surface.

James McCarthy Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“I would have absolutely no doubt in my mind stating that if James McCarthy had been an athlete and run the 800m, he would have a talent very close to what Mark English currently has,” his former DCU coach Niall Moyna said in 2014.

When James was young, John McCarthy would bring his son to train in Clontarf. John won three All-Irelands on the great Dublin team of the 1970s and was still in good nick.

“We’d always do that run down by the Bull Wall and I always enjoyed doing it,” McCarthy tells The42. “You’re probably talking 5km. When you’re doing it at 12 or 13 it’s tough going.

“He would still have been fit as a fiddle back when I was growing up. He still would have played club football into his 40s so he was still training.

“It felt like 10 miles for me. I stuck at it and kept doing it. That maybe lended to some of the athleticism and fitness I have now. I’d say that definitely helped. I’d generally have a good engine.”

James McCarthy and Michael Fitzsimons celebrates at the final whistle James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

He’s still only 27, but last September McCarthy overtook his father when he collected his fourth All-Ireland medal.

“I do slag him now I’ve one more than him,” he laughs. “I have that now so I’m the kingpin in the house!”

After preferring soccer as a youngster, he started hearing the stories about his father’s heroics with Dublin. It wasn’t long before football took its hold.

“I would have played with Tolka Rovers a few minutes down the road from me. I played a good few years, I was probably a bit late playing the Gah. I started playing Gah at probably 10 or 11.

“The teachers in school were involved with Ballymun Kickhams and they got me up. Didn’t look back. I was juggling both of them for a few years but then I just decided to go with the Gah. I just loved it the influence at home with my three brothers and Dad, they all played it so it was a no-brainer in the end.

“When I was getting to 14 or 15, you start hearing a few of the stories about Dad playing for Dublin. You’re putting things together and you see the tapes of the games from back in the day. You start thinking it wouldn’t bad doing it as well.”

James McCarthy with Eamon Fennell Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The youngest of four boys, McCarthy’s three older brothers showed talent during their early days playing with Ballymun. But James had something extra, that drive needed to make it as a top-class sportsman.

“They were very good footballers, they all played underage with Dublin but they didn’t have the commitment,” the wing-back continues. “I think they enjoyed the other side of life a bit too much.

“Obviously at different stages….We would have started drinking maybe 16 or 17 and doing that side of things but I always was committed. I always knew what I wanted to do.”

James was coached by his father during his youth and it was a relationship fraught with tension at times. Both men have a stubborn streak running through them. Perhaps it’s what took them to the top of the game 40 years apart.

Football brought them closer, but also caused them to clash at times.

“We would have fought like two bulls out on the pitch,” says McCarthy. “We’ve fallen out a few times but he would have been a lot tougher on me than other fathers with their kids.

“Not that they’d be too soft but their son could do no wrong. I had it the other way which was probably the best way in the end. We fought about it plenty.

“He’d let you know very quick if you had a good or bad game. What was I doing here or what I should have done there.

James McCarthy celebrates Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“He was obviously there himself and he knew what it took. That side of things definitely helped me, kept me on my toes and kept me focused different areas of my game I had to work on.

“My first few years playing senior with Ballymun he was involved with Declan Sheehan’s backroom team. It was good to have him there to guide you through. He’s always there for advice.

“He kind of lets me off the last two or three years. He maybe has more faith in me now. We talk about it every now and then but he lets me do my own thing now. It’s a different dynamic than when we were starting off.”

Tough love from home helped McCarthy lay the groundwork for what was to come, but his time in DCU is where he reckons his career really took flight.

Cúl Heroes 2017 Trading Card and Magazine Launch Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE James McCarthy was at the Cúl Heroes 2017 Trading Card launch in Croke Park Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Maybe it was those long runs in Clontarf, but the Ballymun defender was drawn to athletics when he started studying in the college located near where he grew up.

“When I realised I had a bit of talent when I was getting older I went, ‘I definitely want to do it.’ I went down to DCU and that brought my game on again.

“You’d meet a lot of the athletics people down there. It was a great period for me when I was 18 or 19 to get down there. I did a bit of training with the athletics as well. It’s different and really good for your running mechanics. That definitely helped me.

“Learning about how to train properly and getting the proper nutrition stuff, so that definitely shot my game up. We had really good coaches down there so I was always committed to it.”

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Stephen Cluxton, Rory O'Carroll, Darren Daly, Jack McCaffrey, Ger Brennan and James McCarthy James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

His time in DCU had benefits for other sides of his life too. He did his thesis based on a Medical Exercise programme founded by Jack McCaffrey’s father Dr Noel.

“It’s all to do with rehabilitation for people who have heart disease or lung disease. There’s another one for male victims of cancer. All really great courses and it was a humbling experience doing work with those people.

“They’re lovely and it was a great two or three years for me. I did my thesis on it around their testing programmes. I really enjoyed it and it was a great time. There’s really good work being done down there and it was great.”

With a Sports Science undergraduate degree and a Masters in Business in the bag from his days in DCU, McCarthy has had spend time balancing his on-field career with a professional career off the field.

“I love football and it’s everything to me. It’s on my thoughts all the time but at the end of the day it’s only for a period of time in your life. If you’re lucky 10 or 11 years. You have to make sure you’re set-up in life.

James McCarthy Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s great when you go to college you get your degree that way. That’s probably our big advantage compared to professional sports, that the majority  GAA players go to college and get a degree. It sets you up for life that way which is great.”

While working as a ‎Finance and Leasing Sales rep with AIB, he’s adjusting to life in the working world.

“It’s different getting up every morning at half seven and into work. It took adjusting to get used to it but it’s part of growing up in life and you have to go and hit the big bad world eventually. I’m just getting used to it now and you have to do it to make sure you have everything planned out in advance.

“It’s a change. Being in college for four or five years and playing inter-county football was great. You do your two or three lectures a day and you do your bit of training and your bit of dossing!” / YouTube


Cúl Heroes, the official trading cards of the GAA/GPA, launched their 2017 collection last month at Croke Park with brand ambassadors James McCarthy and Padraic Mannion. Other player ambassadors for Cúl Heroes Cards 2017 include Michael Murphy, Noel McGrath, TJ Reid, Colm Cooper and Diarmuid O’Connor.

Cúl Heroes is entering its third year on the market and aims to continue its promotion of Gaelic Games, the players and the unique skills of our national sport.

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